What is dignity? Some people in the world say you can’t live in dignity unless you have some money, or a certain standard of living. That, to me, sounds like pride. I would think a humble person could feel dignified even if they lived in a pig pen. So tell me, is dignity, or demanding the right to live in dignity, a virtue or a vice?
In my experience, this is the kind of discussion that cannot come to a definitive end or agreement. The entire discussion depends on how one defines “dignity”. Google’s dictionary includes the following in its definition:
the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect
a composed or serious manner or style
a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect
a high or honorable rank or position
Middle English: from Old French dignete, from Latin dignitas, from dignus ‘worthy.’
Of these, the last is more likely to be associated with money, though money isn’t absolutely necessary for even it. James E. Faust once said:
I have seen human dignity and self-worth expressed eloquently in the lives of the humblest of the humble, in the lives of the poor as well as in the lives of the formally educated and the affluent. The fruits of the search for holiness in their lives have been transparent, expressed through their inner dignity, their feelings of self-respect and personal worth.
There’s clearly a difference between feeling dignified and others judging or treating you with honor or respect. The former requires nothing outside your own mind where the latter is more likely to be influenced by appearance, wealth, education, and outward behavior. There’s also a difference between those and someone demanding that they be treated with dignity. In my experience, when someone demands something, we start to get into the realm of pride and entitlement. Finally, to throw yet another wrench into these gears, there is the fact that what the world considers worthy of honor and respect is increasingly different from what the Lord considers worthy of honor and respect.
In the Lord’s plan, obedience, integrity, hard work, and similar virtues reflect and increase one’s dignity. For example, the Church’s self-reliance program and welfare system teaches a dignified path to self-reliance by re-enthroning work as a ruling principle, and using other principles of self-reliance to build a sustainable lifestyle. This plan is administered to “safeguard the privacy and dignity of members who receive assistance.” (See chapter 6 of Handbook 2: Administering the Church.)
So, in the end, I would suggest that you not let others draw you into a debate on semantics. Focus instead on your standing with the Lord and the principles he has revealed. His expectations are clear, and it has also been my experience that those who are honestly trying to follow the Savior’s example will find peace and will be respected by others who are doing the same, and isn’t that what matters most? Rather than concerning yourself with being worthy of honor and respect, be worthy of forgiveness, which is a much more precious gift. Dignity will come as a natural consequence.